Black Bart Nominee: Newsom Out Front On Tough Issues

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Last June, when a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a right and that “No longer may this liberty be denied,” the decision’s roots stretched back to 2004, when a newly elected San Francisco mayor decided on his own to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

In 2013, the state’s lieutenant governor made himself the face of an effort that is expected to put a measure to legalize recreational use of marijuana on California’s November 2016 ballot.

In October, that same lieutenant governor helped write a proposed ballot measure to strengthen California’s already tough gun control laws, arguing that the National Rifle Association “can intimidate politicians, but you can’t intimidate the public.”

Love him or hate him – and there are plenty of folks on each side – Gavin Newsom hasn’t been afraid to take public stands on some of the most controversial issues facing California.

That willingness to get out front of causes he believes in –and then work to make them reality – makes Gavin Newsom my nominee for Californian of the Year.

When Newsom opened San Francisco’s City Hall to same-sex couples looking for marriage licenses, he’d been in office a little more than a month. While people said his decision meant he’d never get elected anywhere outside that famously liberal city, Newsom said he wasn’t even sure he’d get elected again in San Francisco.

But while the state courts shut down Newsom’s efforts within a month and nullified the marriages, the joyous pictures of long lines of same-sex couples waiting happily to be wed struck a national nerve, leading in fits and starts – Hello, Prop. 8 – to this year’s decision by the highest court in the land that the San Francisco mayor had it right in the first place.

Newsom’s ability to identify the Next Big Issue and then put together a pragmatic plan to make it happen was shown in 2013 when he came out in favor of a “study” on whether recreational marijuana use should be legalized, just three years after Prop. 19, another legalization effort, had been shot down at the polls.

Not surprisingly, Newsom’s study found that legalization was a fine idea. But the lieutenant governor, whose state job leaves him with plenty of time on his hands, came up this year with a new carefully written ballot measure, found deep-pocketed supporters like former Facebook President Sean Parker and is convincing other pro-pot forces to abandon their own efforts and get behind his measure.

Win or lose, Newsom, who has already said he’s running for governor in 2018, makes it clear where he stands on issues of importance to a new generation of California voters. And, “like it or not” as he was quoted saying in a Prop. 8 TV ad, people have to listen to Newsom and then make their own choice on the measures he’s out in front of. And prompting voters to consider and make decisions on important issues facing California is what politics and government should be about.

There were other people and groups who made important contributions to California this year.

Voters in Contra Costa and Alameda county’s 7th State Senate District looked past the Democratic establishment last May and elected moderate Democrat Steve Glazer over union-backed Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla.

The previous November, many of those same voters made Catharine Baker the Bay Area’s only Republican legislator when they elected her to the Assembly over a more liberal Democrat.

Despite what Democratic leaders said during the campaign, neither Glazer nor Baker bear much resemblance to the conservative Republicans sprinkled through the Legislature, but they are very much like the people who elected them. Voters in Glazer’s and Baker’s districts took time to consider the candidates and not the party or partisan labels when they went into the voting booth. It’s a lesson for the rest of California.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla took what was an office in disarray when he was elected last year and has it moving in the right direction again.

He’s already backed a successful bill to automatically register voters when they renew their driver’s licenses or car registrations and is supporting another effort to make it easier to vote by mail by sending a ballot to every voter.

While Padilla’s office has other duties, in a state that’s setting new records for lousy election turnout, there’s nothing more important for our democracy than bringing more people into the political process.

John Wildermuth is a veteran California reporter and long-time writer in

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